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1914 County History
1914
The Bench and Bar

Much of the history of every civilized country or community centers about its laws and the manner in which they are enforced. "To establish justice" was written into the Federal Constitution by

the founders of the American Republic as one of the primary and paramount purposes of government. The founders of that republic also showed their wisdom in dividing the functions of government into three departments — legislative, executive and judicial — the first to enact, the second to execute and the third to interpret the nation's laws. States have copied this system, so that in every state there are a Legislature to pass laws, a supreme and subordinate courts to inter- pret them and a governor as the chief executive officer to see that they are fairly and impartially enforced. 

The law is a jealous profession. It demands of the attorney and the man on the bench alike a careful, conscientious effort to secure the administration of justice — "speedy and substantial, efficient, equitable and economical." Within recent years there have been some caustic criticisms of the courts for their delays, and a great deal has been said in the press about "judicial reform." Perhaps some of the criticisms are founded upon reason, but should the entire judiciary system be condemned because here and there some judge has failed to measure up to the proper standard, or some lawyer has adopted the tactics of the pettifogger? It should be borne in mind that some of the greatest men in our national history were lawyers. John Marshall, one of the early chief justices of the United States Supreme Court, was a man whose legal opinions are still quoted with reverence and respect by the profession, and his memory is revered by the American people at large. Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe, who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and gave to the United States an empire in extent, were all lawyers. Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Salmon P. Chase, Stephen A. Douglas, Thomas M. Cooley, and a host of others who might be mentioned, were men whose patriotism and love of justice were unquestioned. And last, but not least, was Abraham Lincoln, self- educated and self-reliant, whose consummate tact and statesmanship saved the Union from disruption. 

Concerning the tendency to criticize the courts, one of the justices of the Ohio Supreme Court recently said: "A reasonable amount of criticism is good for a public officer — even a judge. It keeps reminding him that, after all, he is only a public servant; that he must give account of his stewardship, as to his efficiency, the same as any other servant; that the same tests applied to private servants in private business should be equally applied to public servants in public business, whether executives, legislators or judges — at least, this is the public view. Would it not be more wholesome if more public officers, especially judges, took the same view?" 

Fortunately for the people of Lee County, her judges have been men of character, free from charges of venality or corruption, and justice has generally been administered in such a way that criticism of the court was unnecessary. In the fall of 1834, while Iowa was still under the jurisdiction of Michigan Territory, an election was ordered for the election of judicial officers in Des Moines County, which then included the present County of Lee. There were but two voting places — Burlington and Fort Madison. William Morgan was elected presiding judge; Young L. Hughes and Henry Walker, associate judges; W. W. Chapman, prosecuting attorney; W. R. Ross, clerk; Solomon Perkins, sheriff. At the same time John W. Whitaker was elected judge of probate, and a little later John Barker and Richard Land were appointed justices of the peace by the governor of Michigan Territory. These were the first judicial officers in Southeastern Iowa. 

The first session of the District Court was held in the spring of 1835, at the residence of the clerk, in the Town of Burlington, with Judge Morgan presiding and the two associates both present. Among those tried for misdemeanor were some of the soldiers stationed at Fort Des Moines (now Montrose). They were defended by their captain, Jesse B. Browne, who afterward became a resident of Lee County and a member of the local bar. 

In July, 1836, Iowa became a part of the Territory of Wisconsin, and in that year Isaac Lefrler succeeded William Morgan as the presiding judge of the local District Court. Lee County was erected as a separate county and partly organized. The first session of the District Court in the new county was held at Fort Madison, beginning on March 27, 1837, and was presided over by David Irvin of the Territorial Supreme Court of Wisconsin, who had been assigned to the Second Judicial District. Judge Irvin's first official order was for the appointment of John H. Lines clerk of the court and W. W. Chapman, prosecuting attorney. Francis Gehon was United States marshal and Joshua Owen, sheriff of Lee County. The marshal was directed by the court to summon a grand jury and the names of Isaac Johnson, John Gregg, Isaac Briggs, E. D. Ayres, William Anderson, Samuel Morrison, Peter P. Jones, William Ritchie, Henry Hawkins, George Herring, James McAlleny, Rich- ard Dunn, John R. Shaver, Edwin Guthrie, Jesse Dickey, Garrett I. Wood, C. E. Stone, David Wright, Joseph Skinner, Benjamin Brattan, George W. Ball and John Stephens were presented, from which a grand jury was to be drawn and impaneled, but the judge found 'that none of them was qualified to serve and they were discharged, each man being allowed one day's pay. The court then approved the bond of Aaron White and granted him permission to operate a ferry at Fort Madison. This court was held in a room in the Madison House. 

At the second term, which convened on August 28, 1837, with the same judge presiding and the same officers in attendance except prosecuting attorney, the following were summoned as grand jurors: John L. Cotton, Samuel Ross, Thomas Small, Jr., Jesse Wilson, Joseph S. Douglass, Peter P. Jones, Joseph Skinner, Aaron White, John Gregg, John Stephenson, Campbell Gilmer, Jesse O'Neil, John Box, Johnson J. Phares, William Tyrell, Henry Hawkins, E. D. Ayres, Lorenzo Bullard, Benjamin Brattan, Leonard P. Parker, William Anderson, George Herring, Abraham Hunsicker and John G. Kennedy. E. D. Ayres was elected foreman of the grand jury and Philip Viele was appointed prosecuting attorney, Mr. Chapman having been elected delegate to Congress. 

Sixty-two indictments were returned by the grand jury, to-wit: One for injuring cattle, two for assault with intent to kill, three for * assault and battery, and fifty-six for gambling. The two indictments for assault with intent to kill were against Wade H. Rattan, but when the cases were called for trial in April, 1839, it was found that Rattan had left the country and default was entered on the records. He was never heard from again in Lee County. The other indictments, with two or three exceptions, were all dismissed as defective. 

Judge David Irvin, who presided at these early terms of court, was a Virginian by birth. When the Territory of Michigan was established he was appointed a judge by President Jackson and was assigned to that part of the territory afterward cut off and erected into the Territory of Wisconsin. He was a man of upright character, prompt with his decisions, and was well versed in the law. When Iowa was made a territory, Judge Irvin went back to Wisconsin, where he remained upon the bench until removed by President Harrison in 1841. He then went to Texas and during the Civil war was an ardent supporter of the Confederate cause. He lived and died a bachelor. 

William W. Chapman, the first prosecuting attorney, after the expiration of his term as delegate to Congress in 1839, went to Oregon and became one of that state's prominent attorneys; Clerk John H. Lines also went to Oregon; Marshal Gehon died, and Sheriff Owen removed to California. 

When the Territory of Iow T a was established in 1838, Charles Mason of Burlington was appointed chief justice; Thomas S. Wilson of Dubuque and Joseph Williams of Pennsylvania, associate judges of the Supreme and District courts of the territory, and these gentlemen continued to hold courts until Iowa was admitted as a state. Under the constitution of 1846 the state was divided into judicial districts, and George H. Williams of Lee County was made first district judge of the First District. 

Mr. Williams was born in the State of New York, March 26, 1823. He was educated in the academy at Pompey Hill, New York, and came to Iowa, where he was admitted to the bar in 1844. He was elected judge of the First District in 1847 an d served in that capacity for about five years. In 1852 he was a presidential elector on the Pierce ticket, and in 1853 he was appointed chief justice of the Territory of Oregon. He was a member of the Oregon Constitutional Convention and served as United States senator from that state from 1865 to 1871. Judge Williams was a member of the commission to settle the Alabama claims, and in 1871 he was appointed attorney-general of the United States by President Grant and served until 1875, when he was nominated by Grant for chief justice of the Supreme Court, but his name was withdrawn. From 1902 to 1905 Mr. Williams served as mayor of Portland, Oregon, his home city. 

In 1852 Judge Williams was succeeded by Ralph P. Lowe, who was born in Warren County, Ohio, November 21, 1805. In 1829 he graduated at Miami University, after which he went to Alabama, where he was employed as teacher. He studied law there with John Campbell, afterward justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was admitted to the bar in Alabama, practiced four years in that state, then removed to Dayton, Ohio, and in 1849 removed to Iowa. In 1857 ne resigned his position as judge of the First District Court, and in the fall of that year was nominated by the republican party for governor. He was elected, being the first governor under the new constitution. Two years later he became one of the justices of the Iowa Supreme Court, the first time the justices of that court were elected by popular vote. He served on the bench until 1868, when he resigned and resumed the practice of law. In 1872 he was elected chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, but two years later removed to Washington, D. C, where he died on December 22, 1883. 

Judge Lowe was succeeded on the district bench by John W. Rankin, who was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, June 21, 1823. In 1842 he graduated with honors at Washington Col- lege. He then taught school and studied law in Ohio, was admitted to the bar, came to Keokuk in 1848, and soon became recognized as one of the leading members of the Lee County bar. In 1857 he was elected district judge, but served only a short time. During his twenty-one years' residence in Keokuk he served as a member of the State Senate and was colonel of the Seventeenth Iowa Infantry in the Civil war. For some time he was associated in the practice of law as a partner of General Curtis, and later with Judge Charles Mason and Samuel F. Miller. His death occurred on July 10, 1869.

Thomas H. Clagett became district judge upon the retirement of Judge Rankin in 1857, an( i served about one year. Judge Clagett was born in Prince George County, Maryland, August 30, 1815, received an academic education, studied law in the office of Governor Pratt of Maryland, and was admitted to practice in that state. He was twice elected to the Maryland Legislature and was active in his efforts to establish a public school system in that state. In 1850 he came to Keokuk, where he soon became identified with the legal profession, and at the time of his death, April 14, 1876, he was editor and proprietor of the Keokuk Constitution. 

Under the old constitution a County Court was established in 1 85 1 and Edward Johnstone was elected the first judge. Judge Johnstone was one of the prominent attorneys of the early Lee County bar. He was born in Pennsylvania, July 4, 18 15, and was admitted to the bar in his native state at the age of twenty-two years. About 1837 ne located at Burlington, where he served as clerk of the Territorial Legislature. During that session he was appointed one of the commissioners to adjust the land titles in the half-breed tract, and located at Montrose. In 1839 he was elected to the Legislature and was made speaker of the House, and when James K. Polk became President he was appointed United States attorney for Iowa. He was also associated with Dr. J. H. Bacon in the banking business and was one of the public spirited citizens of Lee County. 

Judge Johnstone was succeeded as county judge in 1855 by, Samuel Boyles, who was reelected in 1859. Robert A. Russell succeeded Judge Boyles in 1862, and he in turn was succeeded by Edmund Jaeger, who served until 1870, when the office was abolished. 

Article V, section 5, of the constitution of 1857, provides that "The District Court shall consist of a single judge, who shall be elected by the qualified electors of the district in which he resides. The judge of the District Court shall hold his office for the term of four years, and until his successor shall have been elected and qualified; and shall be ineligible to any other office, except that of judge of the Supreme Court, during the term for which he was elected." 

Another section of the same article provides for the establishment of judicial districts as follows: "The state shall be divided into eleven judicial districts; and after the year i860, the General Assemblv may reorganize the judicial districts, and increase or diminish the number of districts, or the number of judges of the said court, and may increase the number of judges of the Supreme Court; but such increase or diminution shall not be more than one district, or one judge of either court, at any one session; and no reorganization of the districts, or diminution of the judges, shall have the effect of removing a judge from office. Such reorganization of the districts, or any change in the boundaries thereof, or any increase or diminution of the number of judges, shall take place every four years thereafter, if necessary, and at no other time." 

Under these provisions Lee County was attached to District No. 1. of which Francis Springer of Louisa County was judge from 18^8 to 1869. The First District was then made to consist of the counties of Lee and Des Moines until about 1896. Among the Des Moines County men who served as judge of this district were Joshua Tracy, Thomas W. Newman, A. H. Stutsman, O. H. Phelps and James D. Smyth. Joseph M. Casey was elected judge of the dis- trict in 1887 and served until his death in 1895. Judge Casey came to Lee County when he was but eleven years old. He received a good academic education, studied law with John F. Kinney, and in 1847 was admitted to the bar. He located in Sigourney, Keokuk County, where he served for five years as prosecuting attorney. In April, 1861, he located at Fort Madison, and in 1887 was elected district judge, holding that office until his death in 1895. 

Alvin J. McCrary was elected to the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Casey, but served only a short time, when Henry Bank was elected for a full term. It was about this time that Lee County was made a judicial district by itself. In 191 1, when the docket became so crowded, William S. Hamilton was appointed as an additional district judge to relieved the congested condition and in 191 2 was elected for full term. The present judges of the District Court are Henry Bank and William S. Hamilton. 

The Bar 

Lee County has produced a number of attorneys whose names and reputations occupy high places in the legal annals of the Union. Foremost among these was Samuel F. Miller, a native of Richmond, Kentucky, where he was born on April 5, 1816. He was educated in the local schools and the town academy, and at eighteen years of age began the study of medicine. He began the practice of medicine at Barboursville, Kentucky, in 1838. Disliking medicine, he turned his attention to the law, read with Judge Ballinger, and in 1845 was admitted to the bar. Five years later he located in Keokuk, where he became the partner of John W. Rankin, and the firm of Rankin & Miller became one of the best known in Southeastern Iowa. In 1861 the lawyers of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin all joined in recommending him for one of the justices of the United States Supreme Court and he was appointed by President Lincoln in July, 1862. His nomination was immediately confirmed by the Senate and he served on the supreme bench until his death on Octo- ber 13, 1890. After his death a lawyer who knew him well said: "Some other judges had greater learning, but none possessed greater legal wisdom. After delivering judgments whose influence will outlive the granite walls of the court room and after deciding cases that involved millions of money, he died poor in gold, but rich in fame." 

Joseph M. Beck, who was born in Clermont County, Ohio, April 21, 1823, was of English and Welsh ancestry. After graduating at Hanover College in Indiana, he read law with Miles C. Eggleston of Madison, Indiana, taught school for some time, and in 1847 located at Montrose, Lee County. In 1849 he removed to Fort Madison and ten years later was elected mayor of that city. He then served several years as prosecuting attorney, and in 1867 was elected one of the judges of the Iowa Supreme Court, in which capacity he served for twenty-four years. Judge Beck was one of the trustees of the state library and was influential in building it up to its present proportions. He had a fine judicial mind and his opinions are still quoted as authority, not only in Iowa, but also in other states. He died at Fort Madison, May 30, 1893. 

Philip Viele, an early attorney and prominent citizen of Fort Madison, was born in Rensselaer County, New York, September 10, 1799. He was a descendant of the Frenchman, Arnaud Cornelius Viele, who came to America in the latter part of the seventeenth century and located near Schenectady. Philip was educated in the local academy and Union College, and in the fall of 1821 began the study of law at Waterford, New York. In the presidential campaign of 1824 he took the stump for Jackson and in 1827 was appointed surrogate of Rensselaer County, where he served until 1835. In June, 1837, he located at Fort Madison, when the town consisted of about a score of log cabins. In 1840 he took an active part as a whig in the political campaign and in 1846 was the leader of the "Union, Retrenchment and Reform Party of Lee County." He was the candidate of that party for judge of probate and was elected. In 1852 he was the whig candidate for Congress, but was defeated, and in 1859 became a member of the State Board of Education. He served four terms as mayor of Fort Madison. Mr. Viele was a great lover of children and every Christmas gave a dinner to . a large number of Fort Madison's little people. 

An amusing story in Judge Viele's practice as an attorney is told of a case tried before Judge Mason at Fort Madison, in which a wood dealer on the river sold a piece of land in the half-breed tract to the clerk of the court at Fort Madison, taking a note for payment. The title proved valueless and the clerk refused to pay the note. Suit was brought, in which Judge Viele represented the wood dealer. In closing his argument to the jury he described how the wife and children of his client were probably standing at the doorway of their humble cottage home "with eyes strained up the road toward Fort Madison, anxiously looking for the return of the husband and father; and the first words that will greet my client on his return home will be, 'Pa, have the court and jury at Fort Madison done you justice?' When the case was given to the jury eleven voted for the wood dealer and one for the clerk. When that one juror was asked the reasons for his position he replied: "Well, I know that man has no wife and children. He keeps 'bach 1 in a log cabin. I believe the whole claim is a fraud." Upon receiving this information the other eleven reversed their views and the case was decided against Viele. A second trial was ordered, but before it came on the wood dealer got into trouble and fled the country. He was never heard of again. 

Alfred Rich was a native of Kentucky. He studied law in Covington with W. W. Southworth, and while studying in his office fell in love with his preceptor's daughter. Southworth, who had been a member of Congress, said to Rich : "Go to Congress and you may have my daughter." The girl would have married him anyhow, but Rich declared he would win her by becoming a congressman. He first went to Texas, but later located at Fort Madison. Without money, he accepted such work as he could find. Some friends took an interest in him and got him a school. While teaching, a man was arrested at Montrose charged with assault and battery with intent to kill, and Rich offered to defend him. His intelligent and successful conduct of this case established him in a good practice. In 1839 ne was elected to the Legislature and the next year, remembering his ambition and desires, he was the whig candidate for Congress, but was defeated by Gen. A. C. Dodge. From this defeat he lost courage, became somewhat dissipated in his habits, and died of tuber- culosis in the spring of 1842. 

Daniel F. Miller, Sr., whose name is still a household word in Lee County, was born near Cumberland, Maryland, October 14, 1 8 14. He received all his schooling by the time he was twelve years of age and then worked about three years at the printer's trade. After teaching a term of school he walked to Pittsburgh, in order to save what little money he had, and was successful in getting a job in a store. Here he studied law, and in the justices' courts or before referees he was able to earn a small fee now and then. In 1839 he was admitted to the bar, and in April of that year located at Fort Madison, where he opened his office. In 1840 he was elected to the Legislature and on the third day of the session introduced his bill to abolish imprisonment for debt, which passed the House, but was defeated in the Council. In 1848 he was elected to Congress on the whig ticket from the southeastern district of Iowa, but did not get the certificate of election on account of fraud in one of the western counties. He went before Congress and stated his cause with such force that his opponent was unseated and a new election ordered. In 1850 he was elected by about eight hundred majority, and in 1856 was an elector-at-large on the republican ticket. He served as mayor of Keokuk, and was one of the best known and most able attorneys in Southeastern Iowa. He died at Omaha, Nebraska, December 9, 189_. 

George W. McCrary was born near Evansville, Indiana, August 2 9> 1 835. A few months later his parents removed to Illinois, and at the age of eighteen years he began teaching school. In 1855 he entered the office of Rankin & Miller at Keokuk as a student, and upon completing his legal studies was admitted to the bar. He soon built up a good practice, became active in politics, was elected to the lower house of the Legislature in 1857 anc ^ m T ^ or t0 tne State Senate. He was a strong Union man, and in the Senate was chairman of the committee on military affairs. When Samuel F. Miller was appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Mr. McCrary became Judge Rankin's partner. In 1868 he was elected to Congress and was twice reelected. He was appointed secretary of war in the cabinet of President Hayes, and after serving about three years in that position was appointed United States judge of the Eighth Circuit, composed of the states of Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and Arkansas. In 1884 he resigned his position on the bench o become general counsel for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. He then located at Kansas City, Missouri, where he died on June 23, 1890, but his remains were taken to Keokuk for burial. Judge McCrary was the author of the "American Law of Elections," a work which is still regarded as a standard authority. 

William W. Belknap, for many years a prominent figure in Keokuk, was born at Newburg, New York, in 1829, graduated at Princeton University in 1848, studied law and in 1851 was admitted to the bar. Two years later he located in Keokuk, where he formed a partnership with Ralph P. Lowe. In 1857 Mr Belknap was elected to the Legislature as a democrat. Upon the breaking out of the Civil war he assisted in recruiting troops and was commissioned major of the Fifteenth Iowa Infantry. He was in command of the regiment at the siege of Corinth and afterwards served on the staff of General McPherson. In 1864 he was made brigadier-general, and at the close of the war was offered a commission in the regular army, which he declined. In the meantime he had become a republican, and in 1866 was appointed collector of internal revenue for the First Iowa District. He served for seven years as secretary of war under President Grant, and died at Washington, D. C, October 13, 1890. 

Hugh T. Reid, another early Lee County lawyer, was of Scotch-Irish extraction and a native of South Carolina. His grandfather, Hugh Reid, served as an American soldier in the Revolution, and entered a tract of land in the Northwest Territory, which he afterward gave to James Reid, the father of Hugh T. In 1833 Hugh T. Reid entered Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he spent three years, and then graduated at the Indiana University, Bloomington. He studied law with James Perry of Liberty, Indiana, and was admitted to the bar in the spring of 1839. In June of that year he located at Fort Madison, and in the spring of 1840 formed a partnership with Edward Johnstone which lasted about ten years, much of which time was spent in defending his title to the half-breed tract, an account of which is given in another chapter. From 1840 to 1842 he served as prosecuting attorney for the district composed of Lee, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson and Van Buren counties, and while in this position won a place in the front rank of attorneys. Mr. Reid was one of the lawyers who defended Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, when he was on trial at Carthage, Illinois, in 1844. While in command of the Fifteenth Iowa Infantry at Shiloh he received several wounds, one through the chest almost proving fatal. On April 13, 1863, he was made brigadier-general by President Lincoln, but resigned in April, 1864, to look after his private business. He took a prominent part in building the Des Moines Valley Railroad from Keokuk to Fort Dodge. 

It would be impossible to give individual mention to all the lawyers who have won distinction as members of the Lee County bar, but among those who occupied prominent places may be mentioned H. H. Trimble, W. D. Patterson, James M. Love, J. Monroe Reid, William C. Howell, W. R. Gilbreath, Daniel Mooar, W. C. Hobbs, Daniel F. Miller, Jr., John Van Valkenburg, William Fulton, M. D. Browning, O. H. Browning, J. C. Hall, Jesse B. Browne, W. H. Morrison, John H. Craig and J. D. M. Hamilton, all of whom are remembered as able and successful attorneys.


Source:  History of Lee County, Iowa, by Dr. S. W. Moorhead and Nelson C. Roberts, 1914

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